We sat in a circle. As we walked in, the air was thick with somberness and respect. They have been living with the death of their children for years. We were meeting them for the first time. Without the deaths of their children, we probably wouldn’t be meeting them that day. Without the tragic death of her son and the tragic death of his daughter, the two probably wouldn’t be friends. An Israeli and a Palestinian inextricably bound together through pain and hope. Their friendship and partnership for peace has grown to such an extent, sometimes now they finish each other’s sentences.
He is calm, cool, and collected. You can see the wise compassion in his eyes, no doubt grown over the years. He smiles with a small grin every time she says something funny. She is a bit more of a spitfire, full of wit and intelligence. She, ahead of him by a few years, looks at him as a friend who has traveled many miles together would. They find laughter amidst their deep, never ending pain. It puts us at ease. They have a focused energy and commitment toward hope and peace for themselves and for their fellow community members, who live both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in the modern state of Israel.
Basam Aramin lost his daughter on a “regular” school day. She was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier after school.
Robi Damelin lost her son while he was on duty as an Israeli soldier. He was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper at a checkpoint.
Robi and I
Israel-Palestine is a land of checkpoints and schools. Try to imagine, guarded checkpoints throughout the United States. Try to imagine, only some people allowed to drive on certain roads. Palestinians are not allowed to be on some roads at all, “sterile roads” as they are called. On some roads, Palestinians can only walk and not drive.
In a land where Israelis and Palestinians are intertwined amongst hills, deserts, olive trees, and vista views, citizenship status and permits, or lack their-of, determine where you can and can’t go. Remember Israel and Palestine are only about the size of New Jersey.
Jericho, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Sea of Galilee, Northern Israel
Hebron, West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories
Israeli soldiers guard these checkpoints which keep in force these limitations. Escalation can erupt at any time. Tension is part of the fabric of their lives, rising and falling, rising and falling, again and again over the years. Some seek revenge. Some react out of fear. All, deep down, want security. But a clear, easy path to security for all is not part of reality.
Basam and Robi know this all too well, but they refuse to give in to hopelessness. They refuse to give up. Their pain and their friendship spur them on as they continue to educate others and tell their stories. Their lives are a testament to the difficult, less chosen path toward security and peace.
They are part of an organization called the Parents Circle-Families Forum. It is a “unique, grassroots organization made up of more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families, who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict.” As international spokespeople for the organization they travel and spread awareness as part of the “long-term vision..to have a reconciliation process as an integral part of any future peace agreement.” They “want..permanent, sustainable peace.” http://www.parentscircle.com
To think, the ones who have suffered and lost the most lead the charge toward peace.
As I sat in the circle, trying to process the weight of their loss and stories, I was stunned at the power of peacemaking. Choosing to listen, forgive, and love, working toward peace, instead of seeking revenge is stunningly beautiful and strong. I want to be like them. I haven’t lost a child. I don’t live in the tension-filled Holy Land. But as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be a peacemaker.
What does it look like for me to live like this? I am still processing this. One thing I can do is pass on their stories. Please let them affect you. Feel their pain. See their passion. Ponder the laying down of arms. Allow them to give you perspective.
Now let’s look at injustice, suffering, and prejudice in and around us here in the States and abroad. Our shared humanity urges us to pay attention and seek to understand someone else’s pain and injustice. Where does hopelessness threaten in our areas of influence? Let’s make peacemaking our goal. Like Robi says, “if we can do it, so can you.”
With Israel and Palestine back in the news, because of President Trump’s remarks and decision, I find myself begging God to intervene for these peacemakers, and many like them, who live and work in a place where America’s influence is significant. I am rethinking what I can do, starting with convincing more people here in the States to get educated about and engaged in the conflict, which continues to affect the lives of Robi and Bassam.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.” Matthew 5:9